While Young People Desperately Fight a Cuomo Highway Project in Hunts Point, NYC Electeds Do Nothing

The NYS DOT plan will exacerbate air pollution in a neighborhood where asthma rates are already sky high.

The state DOT plan calls for highway ramps on Edgewater Road abutting the Bronx River and flying over part of Concrete Plant Park.
The state DOT plan calls for highway ramps on Edgewater Road abutting the Bronx River and flying over part of Concrete Plant Park.

New York State DOT is hellbent on building a highway ramp between Hunts Point and the Bronx River like it’s still 1950. The state DOT’s own analysis shows the ramp will exacerbate air pollution in a neighborhood where asthma rates are already sky high.

City Hall and local politicos have leverage to convince Governor Cuomo’s DOT to change course, but Mayor de Blasio and Bronx electeds have done nothing to stop the trajectory of this project. Time is running out.

Last night, neighborhood residents made their case for revising the highway plan to state DOT officials who absorbed their feedback with an air of complete indifference. No Bronx council members or state representatives attended to lend their support, nor was any city agency or representative of City Hall on hand.

The state DOT highway plan is a perversion of the neighborhood’s longstanding campaign to turn the Sheridan Expressway into a human-scaled surface street. Governor Cuomo gave his blessing to the Sheridan teardown last year, but as part of the package, his DOT wants to build new Bruckner Expressway ramps that will pump truck traffic through neighborhood streets, cut off the residential areas of Hunts Point from the riverfront, and cast local parks in shadow.

NYS DOT’s plan disregards 20 years of neighborhood advocacy that called for less obtrusive Bruckner ramps that connect directly to the Hunts Point food market and minimize truck traffic on residential streets. Instead, the DOT wants to put a ramp along Edgewater Road, right by the waterfront, where residents would have to dodge heavy truck traffic to get to Garrison Park, Hunts Point Riverside Park, and the Rocking the Boat educational center.

Young people from Hunts Point spoke out at a state DOT hearing on the project yesterday. They demanded to know why NYS DOT rejected the neighborhood’s preferred plan for ramps at Leggett Avenue and Oak Point Avenue, further from the residential core.

“The fact that you want to put in a ramp that puts young children in danger on a daily basis, when the Sheridan Expressway already puts people in danger,” said Aaliyah Daniels, a student, lifelong Hunts Point resident, and the president of ACTION, a teen advocacy group run out of The Point CDC. “People have been advocating for this for over 20 years, and you continue to ignore us, and ignore our lives, and ignore that we matter.”

Image: Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance
State DOT wants to put highway ramps where they would interfere with access to the Bronx River and neighborhood parks. Image: Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance

Earlier this month, NYS DOT released a 400-page draft environmental impact statement [PDF], which said the Edgewater ramps would produce a net increase in particulate emissions and noise pollution just a stone’s throw from multi-family residential buildings, schools, and parks already plagued by some of the worst air pollution in the city.

“Within this community, everyone knows [someone] with asthma,” said Delilah Santiago, 17, a rising senior at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, which sits adjacent to the Sheridan Expressway. “Edgewater ramps will be going over Concrete Plant Park… where there [are] plants growing to get this community healthier. How can this community get healthier with Edgewater ramps bringing in toxic [air] to the community?”

State DOT did not evaluate the neighborhood’s preferred option for ramps by Oak Point Avenue, having ruled it out earlier this year. The ostensible reason was that Oak Point ramps would reduce the capacity of the Oak Point rail yard, triggering opposition from CSX and Amtrak. State DOT’s narrow public scoping document released in March also claimed, without citing any data, that the Oak Point ramp would lead to more traffic on local streets [PDF].

Delilah Santiago testifying last night. Photo: David Meyer
Delilah Santiago testifying last night. Photo: David Meyer

State DOT also claimed that because the ramp would impose an end to illegal double-parking on Oak Point Avenue, it could harm local businesses. But the Edgewater Road plan will force multiple businesses to shut down and cede their property to the state through eminent domain before construction starts next year.

“They’ve informed me that they’re taking my business” within six months, said Rubin Kuszel, vice president of General Fire-Proof Door, a family-owned operation in Hunts Point since 1921. “It’s easier for them to bust the balls of the small business owner than it is to pick a fight with Amtrak and CSX.”

Just 18 days remain for the public to weigh in on the project. Comments can be submitted via email to huntspoint@dot.ny.gov until July 16.

Bronx elected officials, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Bronx County Democratic Committee Chairman Marcos Crespo, cheered when Cuomo announced the decommissioning of the Sheridan to much fanfare last year.

But as details of the plan for Bruckner ramps have come to light, turning local residents against the plan, Crespo, Diaz, and their cohort are nowhere to be seen. At one point during last night’s meeting, someone asked if any elected officials or their representatives were in the room. No one stepped forward.

“Our young people learned about Robert Moses and his racist city planning, and we actually celebrated when we heard the governor’s announcement,” said Dariella Rodriguez, director of community organizing and outreach at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. But the more residents learned about the project, the more disillusioned they became.

“Our community voices and our interests,” said Rodriguez, “they’re not recognized in these plans.”